• Added info on Jimmy Ford, thanks to Volker Houghton. • Extended and corrected the post on Happy Harold Thaxton (long overdue), thanks to everyone who sent in memories and information! • Added information to the Jim Murray post, provided by Mike Doyle, Dennis Rogers, and Marty Scarbrough. • Expanded the information on Charlie Dial found in the Little Shoe post.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cotton Town Jubilee label story

Country Music from Cotton Town Memphis

Arkansas based radio and TV personality, record producer, and country singer Gene Williams was an established figure in the local Arkansas country music scene during the 1960s and 1970s. He operated various label throughout these years, the most prolific being Cotton Town Jubilee Records. Until 2016, this label had been the subject of a couple of German reissue LPs and CDs but had never been spotlighted properly. My intense research mounted in a special American Music Magazine issue in September 2017, concentrating on Williams, his activities in the record business and the artists that recorded for him.

Gene Williams, ca. 1965

Gene Williams was born 1938 in Tyronza, Arkansas, and attended high school in Dyess, Arkansas. He started his career in the radio business in 1958 when he took a job as a DJ on KWAM in Memphis, Tennessee. Eventually he became also the station's sales manager and began promoting Grand Ole Opry acts such as Flatt & Scruggs in the area. In 1962, he created a new country music stage show he called "Cotton Town Jubilee", which debuted on January 27, 1962. It was a live show held at the Rosewood Theater in Memphis and aired over KWAM every Saturday night, featuring local singers and musicians as well as guest stars from the Opry. James O'Gwynn was the first guest star to appear on the show.

Williams soon extended his activities by founding his own record company in the spring of 1962, the Cotton Town Jubilee label based in West Memphis, Arkansas. In addition, he also set up a music publishing company. The first record release was by Sonny Williams, a talented singer who was a regular cast member of the Cotton Town Jubilee show. He had cut two old Hank Williams numbers, "A Teardrop on a Rose" and "If You'll Be a Baby," for the label's first single. By August, Gene Williams had signed Chuck Edwards to a contract. Edwards was originally from Chicago.

By June 1962, the Cotton Town Jubilee show had moved to the Hollywood Theater on 2469 Chelsea Avenue and grew in its popularity. Also the Cotton Town Jubilee label constantly released discs by new local acts Williams was promoting. In late 1962, Jay Chevalier and Cousin Jake & Uncle Josh, originally band members of the Flatt & Scruggs Foggy Mountain Boys, signed a contract with Williams. In early 1963, the Magnolia Play Boys were added to the label's roster and Williams set up a subsidiary called Dover Records. It was also reported by Billboard that Chuck Comer had been signed and afterwards, two singles appeared. At that time, Comer was a DJ on KSUD in West Memphis and also worked as a producer for the label. In addition, he wrote "I'd Give It All to Be with You" for Sonny Williams.

On November 4, 1963, Williams debuted on KAIT-TV in Jonesboro, Arkansas with his new show, the "Gene Williams Country Junction Show," which eventually would run in various forms until his death in 2011.  The new program also brought new artists to his Cotton Town Jubilee label. Ray Coble and Kenny Owens joined the show's cast as well as Marlon Grisham, Sylvia Mobley, Slim Rhodes, and others. Johnny Duncan on vocals and guitar, Jimmy, Roby on steel and lead guitar, Alton Yancey on lead guitar, Bill Medlock on bass, Sandy Manuel on drums, and Ken Burge on dobro made up the house band and likely also played on many of the label's releases. During the years, this line-up changed and also included such musicians as Ira Pierce on steel guitar and Leeman James on lead guitar. 

In early 1963, Jay Chevalier's "Too Many Bubbles" was a 'hit' record in some areas of the country. DJ Bob Luningham of KRZE (Farmington, New Mexico) reported that the song was the 'hottest platter in that area.' Chevalier and his band, the Louisiana Long Shots, also appeared at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas at that time. A fake live LP, pretending to be a recording from one of their appearances there, was issued in 1963 on the Cotton Town Jubilee label.

Slim Rhodes (center) and his band, ca. 1956

During the next two years, the Country Junction show proved to be very popular across the South and was broadcast on different stations in Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kentucky. In 1965, Williams released a LP featuring many of the artists that appeared on the show.

While the Cotton Town Jubilee label folded sometimes likely in 1966 (the catalog had nearly 30 releases), the Country Junction show ran up to 2011 (under different names, like "Gene Williams Country Television Show"). Williams died in December 2011 and was buried at Potter's Cemetery in Lepanto, Arkansas.

100: Sonny Williams - If You'll Be a Baby / A Teardrop on a Rose (1962)
101: Chuck Edwards - The Same Old Place / The Last Seven Years (1962)
102: Jay Chevalier - Khrushev and the Devil / Too Many Bubbles (1962)
103: Cousin Jake & Uncle Josh - This World of Min (Is a Lonely Place) / Just Joshing (1962)
104: Sonny Williams - Foot Prints on the Floor / I'd Give It All to Be with You
105: Sonny Williams - The Tears That Never Fell / It Was Sweet While It Lasted
106: Chuck Comer - I Had My Fingers Crossed / A Love That Never Dies
107: Bob Taylor - If I Had Back What I Used to Have / Walking the Street
109: Cousin Jake & Uncle Josh - Cotton Town Jubilee / Big Flop of the Year
110: Jay Chevalier and the Louisiana Long Shots - Simpley & Softly / Louisiana Living (1963)
112: Cousin Jake & Uncle Josh - Dobro Rumba / Were Going to Have a Ball (1965)
113: Sylvia Mobley - Are You Sorry / Worried Over You
114: Bob Taylor - Did You Miss Me / You've Gone and Broke My Heart
115: Sylvia Mobley - I'm Not Alone Anymore / Every Time I See You (1965)
116: Sonny Williams - Too Much Competition / Play Me a Country Song (1964) 
117: Sonny Williams - Cotton Patch Hop / Making Up for Lost Time
95: Kenny Owens - Christmas Poem / Gene Williams - My Son in Service (1965)
96: Gene Williams - A Mother's Love / Father's Table Grace (1965)
97: Amos Wren - Where Were You / Poor Folks
98: Chuck Comer - I'm the Luckies Guy in the World / What Are We Gonna Do
99: Charles Norris and the Magnolia Play Boys - Explain This Thing to Me / I Want You for My Own
4001: Nancy Ruud - I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry / Once a Day

101: Cousin Jake & Uncle Josh - Just Joshing (1963)
102: Slim Rhodes - The Rhodes Show on the Road (1963)
103: Jay Chevalier and the Louisiana Long Shots - Live at the Golden Nugget (1963)
99: Various artists - Stars of the Gene Williams Country Junction Show (1965)

See also

Recommended reading
• Alexander Petrauskas: "The Cotton Town Jubilee Story" (American Music Magazine #145), September 2017

Thanks to DrunkenHobo, Bob , Michael Hancock, Richard McCarter


Floyd said...

Would you know if this is where Porter met Spec?
Thanks Floyd

Bob said...

Thanks for another regional label story.

Two additions :

107: Bob Taylor : If I Had Back What I Used To Have / ?

114: Bob Taylor : Did You Miss Me / You've Gone And Broke My Heart

Apesville said...

106 = Chuck Comer I Had My Fingers Crossed / ?
112 = Cousin Jake & Josh Dobra Rumba / ? (1965)
116 = Sonny Willaims Too Much Competion / ?

Anonymous said...

Wow talk about a ton of information for any country fan, simply great. Not to up on the old country singers here but love the history, will be bookmarking for future reading.


Unknown said...

Thanks for posting, Sonny Williams (Clyde Bowie) was my Uncle, it is great to see him recognized...

Mellow said...

Hi Eddie, sure would like to know more about your uncle. Do you have an email adress?

Anonymous said...

This is Michael the one that sent you the Kenny Owens picture years ago are you on Facebook?

Mellow said...

Yes I am. You can also reach me through my Facebook site: search for Mellow's Log Cabin and shoot me a message!